OK, not so much “morbid” as… depressed, but that would have killed the alliteration.
For a little bit of context, I was laid off or downsized from the video game company I worked for just about two months ago. It’s been… stressful. Really stressful. It’s part of why I haven’t posted here for a while.
For a bit more context, there’s this fellow’s insanely large video game collection that hit the news:
Anyway, there’s also this article from Kotaku that made the Facebook rounds recently:
It’s a decent article, but I wanted to chase down a couple of implications that they didn’t get to, and tie a few things together.
As might be noted by the Kotaku article, or by speaking with veterans of the industry, there is a lot of churn in the video game production world. Staffing woes aren’t uncommon in many industries, so it’s not like we’re super special snowflakes or anything, but it’s worth noting that the industry isn’t a stable one. It’s a wildly profitable one on the whole, an entertainment medium that isn’t going away, but it’s not financially stable, nor is a career in the industry going to be a stable one.
I read an article a while back (though I can’t find it now), and this thread seems to echo the same thoughts, that careers in the video game industry are short on average. As in, five years short, or about two big game dev cycles. It’s true that we don’t live in a world where you get one job right out of college and stay at it until you retire or die, so again, this isn’t all that unusual, but it’s somewhat sobering. Or it should be.
I’ve worked in the industry for eight years. I’m an old hand at it, in some ways. That’s… weird. (Not as old of a hand as some, but still, it’s weird to think of myself as statistically over the hill, career wise.)
Anyway, this does have effects on the industry beyond what the Kotaku article notes. Because companies are always fluctuating around, “redistributing assets” and such, there are convenient excuses to drop older, more expensive employees and pick up fresh meat from colleges. The passion in these younger, unattached employees (mostly male) is exceptionally easy to exploit, as I’ve railed against before, and as the EA Spouse kerfluffle illustrated all too well. Conditions haven’t improved much since then, though some managers do a good job. Death marches and crunch might be the backbone of a production schedule, but they aren’t healthy.
Tangentially, this explains a fair bit of the “boys’ club” mentality of the industry, for those of you who are up in arms about Blizzard’s recent public relations black eyes. People who grow up (and actually mature, unlike the ESRB’s definition of the word) and want stable careers for their families don’t last long in the industry.
This is part of why the indie scene is important, as veteran developers try out new ideas that would never fit into the studio or megaentertainment company mentality. Games are an important artistic medium, but they are hobbled by the realities of the industry. Indies are opening up the scope of the medium, but like so many artistic avenues, it’s not really a solid career choice.
I could get bitter about this, but really, I’m just noting the realities of the industry as a voice of… not warning, exactly, since I still see great value in games. It’s more of a voice of pragmatism. The industry is not a place for long term stability (relevant to those who wish to make games), it’s not a place for actual maturity (relevant to devs and gamers), and it’s not going away.
I’ve been applying to studios around the world, but have no real leads. I may well be out of the “official” video game world now, more or less “retired” by circumstance, and left to do indie games with friends on the side as I scramble for other work, whether freelance art or some other art position somewhere. Again, this isn’t a desirable position to be in, but it’s not too surprising or unique. I’m disappointed, but then, as I noted in that NBI article, I believe that a job or career is just something you do to pay the bills so you can afford to do what you really want to do in your spare time. I don’t have anything yet, but even if I pick up a new video games job, I can’t really see myself in the industry for decades, just because of how it works.
I’ll work on indie games because they interest me. I’ll make my Shapeways, Zazzle, Kickstarter and other projects because I just can’t stop creating. I may well wind up with a completely irrelevant job, but games, art and creativity are something I will always be involved in.
But… yeah… I’m busier now than I ever have been, working hard on a lot of different things, but making very little money. This blog, as great as it is to write here, isn’t my priority. I’ll be here now and then again, still, I’m not closing shop, I’m just busy. Really busy. I’m updating my portfolio (seen over here), working on my own projects (novels, games, art, photography, all sorts of things) and looking for freelance opportunities. If any of you have leads, I’d certainly love to hear about them.
See you around!